Ottb’s are naturally forward, right?

Doesn’t it seem like I talk quite a bit about teaching the CANTER horses to go forward? I think one of the biggest misconceptions about ottb’s is that they are automatically forward. I would say 95% of mine have no clue how to go forward from the leg/voice/seat even if they were good racehorses. A lot of times it is even more drastic than just being clueless about the leg. It can be feet planted, backing up and just a total refusal to go forward. You can also get what I call the pogo stick which is when they curl under but they aren’t going forward so they just bounce up and down. That is fun stuff! I always am amazed that they manage to get the horses around the track but I guess when everybody is running one direction the horses follow each other so you just hope one horse in the bunch had some steering and a forward button 🙂

I really think above everything else a horse must go forward. Forward is often the only tool that can help you deal with a horse that is spooky, tight, tense, scared or whatever else. If they don’t go forward they will go backwards or up and that is no fun! If you don’t have forward than you don’t have a horse who is respecting the aids. You can’t teach a horse about contact if they don’t go forward either..and if you try you will have one big mess on your hands!

I take them back to some ground work to establish the cues that will translate to under saddle riding and for me those are the stick, leg and smooch or cluck. I had a question about what happens when a horse doesn’t understand the lunge whip. Well, most of them either are terrified or they just don’t get it so that is common. I start out by keeping the circle small. Please wear a helmet for this. I can’t tell you how many times a horse gets quite reactive and has kicked out at me. You need to be close to them and sometimes you are closer than you may be comfortable with so a helmet and gloves are absolutely necessary. A round pen is really good..I don’t have one. Allie and I have talked about seeing if CANTER can purchase a new or used one for my farm because it is such a great tool to have. I end up and down the ring at times when teaching them but it is good exercise 🙂

I want the circle small so that I can control the haunches of the horse. I make a triangle by standing in the middle of the horse. The lunge line is one side of the triangle, I am the point and the lunge whip is the other side of the triangle. I ask the horse to move forward with a cluck and my voice telling them to walk. If no reaction than I will gently tap the whip on the ground. If no reaction that I will gently flick the whip toward them. If no reaction than I will touch them with the whip. If no reaction that I give them a pretty good tap. You would think this would get a response but some horses are standing there looking at you like what….I don’t get it…duh. I try to tap them in a manner that reaches the middle of the butt and scoots them forward. When they move on than that is the reward and you stop touching them. I like a vocal command of a cluck and a smooch (because I use them to go forward when riding) so I always use that in combination with the whip.

There are some horses that don’t move forward and instead they get pissed. They kick out, spin toward you and generally get aggressive. I will put the fear of god into them at this point. They are NOT allowed to kick at me or come toward me. I will very sharply tap them and reprimand them. A tap with the lunge whip does not hurt them. Do not back down to them. You have to act much scarier than they are to let them know it is absolutely not acceptable. If they back up or they come in on the circle than stay behind them and keep them coming forward. This might mean you end up going all over the place but just keep the feet moving forward. Many of them will run backwards because they are just confused but stay calm and just move as quick as you can behind them to keep smooching and gently using the whip to encourage them to move forward and go around you. It is easy to lose patience because some of them just don’t figure it out and they constantly turn in on the circle, stop or go backwards. Be patient but don’t give up. Sometimes in this stage I feel like I am being a bit mean or a bit aggressive. I am not smacking them but I feel bad that I have to keep tapping them and they sometimes are not sure so I feel bad. However, they are smart and when they do the right thing I praise them right away.

When they figure out how to move forward from the whip and the voice than I start to add in some transitions to sharpen up the response. Move from the walk to the trot and ask by a smooch, voice command and a little tap with the whip. If they don’t move off than I will get sharper with them because they know what the whip means they are just ignoring. This all seems silly until you are on a horse who is being naughty and is ignoring the go forward cues. It can be scary so fix it and don’t feel bad about fixing it in a way that lets them know when you say forward you mean it. I repeat the transitions upward from walk to the trot until they get good and then later I will do trot to canter. A lot of times with these horses that don’t go forward they can buck and get really nappy going from trot to canter so iron that out on the lunge line. I call it the disappearing neck syndrome. You ask them to canter and they suck back so much the head just drops down and you have nothing to ride forward. If they buck you end up heading over their head if you aren’t ready. I really don’t care how they move into the canter as long as they are making the attempt to go forward.

These tools really come in handy under saddle but if I am on a horse and I feel like I have lost my toolbox than I just get off and lunge to revisit and then get back on. I also think having somebody lunge you on the horse can be helpful although I have rarely had to do that and I don’t always have the help to make that happen. I try to never get on without a stick and spurs. Why put yourself in the position to not be able to succeed? They aren’t just for decoration either! If I ask the horse to go and they don’t then I break out the smooch and kick. If no response they get a sharp tap with the whip. I am prepared for them to shoot forward and if they do than reward them. You repeat the process until they are responsive to just a light leg.

The awesome thing about ottb’s is that they learn so super fast. I have used the above process on Estrella Corredor and he is a different horse. He went from being nappy and belligerent to marching around like a big boy. Yes, the first few times we rode him he wouldn’t go past the gate but having a person stand there with the lunge whip to let him know lunge whip still came into play when somebody was on his back woke him up 🙂

I got on him last night when the temperature had done a rapid dip and it was really windy. Leaves were blowing across the ring and the trees were blowing. It was dark and the ring lights create interesting shadows. I thought it was  bit risky but he is really sensible so I thought he would be okay.  He was so darn good! I kept it short and sweet but I was really proud of him. He is going to be such a nice horse and boy is he sweet. He really tries so hard and he is a quick learner.

These young Tb’s (especially those who hadn’t been at the track for long) are often just not as broke as we all may think. I am always reminded by that but I find it fun to watch how quick they learn. That is part of the journey with each of them and I am glad we are able to put the right basics on each of them before moving them into their next homes. Most people probably wouldn’t want to deal with all of the baby antics but for whatever reason I really enjoy it.

I look forward to the weekends when I can actually get video and pictures so that I can see their progress.

2 responses to “Ottb’s are naturally forward, right?

  1. I really appreciate this detailed explanation of how you work with baby OTTBs. I have an older OTTB, but his forward button – fortunately – was installed when I got him, but we still have to have conversations about this every now and then. 🙂 I thought these two articles from Jane Savoie might come in handy for you:

    Thanks so much for what you do for these horses!

  2. Please keep blogging, 😀 When I read your post today I could totally relate. First, your point about being careful when working on a small circle. Several years ago I had an OTTB that I was working on getting forward on the lunge, I had just thought “now he’s going forward” and he kicked out and struck my arm which resulted in a broken ulna! Second, I recently purchased a horse straight from the track and have been working with him to see what I have before turning him out for the winter months. Today I worked him on the lunge thinking about what you had written about technique and forward. Needless to say I had a much better horse. 😀 Thank you for all your wisdom!

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